The tomato to grow in a cocktail garden, in my opinion, is a small and flavorful cherry tomato that you can muddle into a drink and also use a garnish. Cherry tomatoes also happen to be a little bit more tolerant of cooler temperatures, and they do better in containers and hanging baskets.
You’ll be seeing more and more grafted tomatoes in garden centers this year, and if you haven’t tried one yet, I highly recommend that you do. The idea behind grafted vegetables is that a flavorful but somewhat finicky tomato can be grafted onto a sturdier tomato rootstock to help it resist disease and produce more fruit. This is the same reason that most fruit trees and rosebushes are grafted rather than grown on their own roots.
My favorites are ‘Sungold,’ which reliably produces lots of sweet, orange fruit, and the very abundant red ‘Sweet 100’ and ‘Sweet Million.’ (Here’s a grafted Sungold/Sweet Million combo plant.) ‘Red Currant’ is a variety that does exceptionally well in containers, and the small fruit really does have a powerful tomato flavor.
If you’re going to be growing them in containers, be sure to give them plenty of sun and use a potting soil that contains coco fiber to help hold in moisture. Ask at the garden center about this — they’re sure to have at least one soil made especially for containers and hanging baskets. Give them a healthy dose of an organic dry fertilizer formulated for fruits and vegetables, and plan on watering regularly. And if you decide to try a hanging basket or one of those upside down tomato planters, be sure you have a freakishly strong hook that is heavily anchored to a good support beam. The plants get incredibly heavy as the season goes on, especially when you water them, so make sure the supports are really overbuilt.
Here’s a trick with tomatoes: when you put the plant in the ground, snip off the lowest set of leaves and submerge the plant a little deeper, so the part of the stem is buried as well. The stem will take root and contribute to a stronger root system. (Don’t do this if you’re growing a grafted tomato: in that case, the graft needs to be visible above ground.)
I have never found the flavors of tomatoes to be very stable in infused vodkas. If you want to mix up a batch of tomato flavored cocktails, my suggestion is to chop or mash the tomatoes with vodka and let it sit for a few hours at the most. You won’t get much additional benefit beyond that.
There’s actually a fantastic organic tomato vodka made by a company called Crop in New York. We had a vodka tasting party a few years ago, and we put a bottle out almost as an afterthought. It was everyone’s favorite.
Tomato photo via Log House Plants.